Volunteers across Europe will pick up litter this
weekend, but where are the strong legislative proposals that Europe needs to
tackle the root of the problem, asks Ariadna
Rodrigo, resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.
Saturday is Clean up Europe Day. All across Europe volunteers will pick up litter from streets, parks and coasts. It is an undoubtedly
important initiative – raising public awareness about waste and what we can do
to reduce it and engaging citizens to clean up locally – but is it addressing
the root causes of the problem? Should Europe rely on volunteers to pick up
litter, or should it introduce waste prevention targets, and mandatory deposit
return schemes to curb waste for good?
The litter on our streets is only one way of mismanaging
resources. According to the latest Eurostat figures, Europe's system of
consumption continues to be predominately linear. Europe buries and burns 58%
of waste. In other words, materials are extracted, produced, consumed and then
disposed of as cheaply as possible. This reliance on landfill and incineration
means valuable, non-renewable resources are escaping the economic cycle, in an
extremely environmentally destructive manner.
As a result, Europe is one of the continents most dependent
on resources from outside its borders. It is also one of the biggest consumers of these resources per capita. Europe is heavily dependent on cheap and abundant imported
resources – very harmful for the global environment and also the European
The European Commission's highly anticipated circular
economy package needs to provide solutions. Friends of the Earth Europe and the organisations Rreuse, Zero
waste, the European Environmental Bureau, Seas at risk, Surfrider, Greenpeace
and Ecos are united in calling for a strong legislative waste framework, which provides the right incentives to both governments and
companies so that Europe can transform the way it uses resources.
Europe needs a truly circular economy; designing products
for reuse and repair, introducing reuse targets and increasing our recycling to
70% at least targets (in regions like in Flanders this is already a reality);
incentivising separate waste collection; reducing material consumption, and
stopping environmentally harmful subsidies such as those used to build
incinerators and landfills.
The benefits are too big to ignore – from protecting the
environment from litter, preventing further extraction of resources, making the
economy less dependent on the availability of cheap materials, increasing
resilience to price fluctuations, and creating up to 860,000 jobs in Europe, especially needed in some countries with unemployment rates as high
In these economically challenging times, nobody doubts the
benefits that a true circular economy could bring to Europe. The good will of
citizens picking litter this Saturday should be reflected in strong legislative
proposals that tackle the root cause, and not just the symptoms.